Last week, the Express reprinted a Michael Moore editorial on
WikiLeaks, Leaks Dont Kill People, Secrets Do. Here is another
viewpoint from Jack Segal, a retired State Department diplomat.
By Anne Stanton
Most Americans who have heard reports of WikiLeaks believe the release
of thousands of secret State Department communications will do more
harm to this country than good, according to a Pew Research Center
survey released on December 10.
Jack Segal, a retired State Department diplomat now living in Traverse
City, happens to agree with them. But dont be mistaken. Segal is a
staunch First Amendment advocate and is writing an insider book about
Afghanistan diplomacy and why we need to end our costly mission there
(See his accompanying essay).
Segal believes that with free speech comes responsibility, such as
checking out whether something happens to be true or putting a news
event into context. The New York Times, which is publishing a series
of news articles based on the Wikileaks documents, is doing just that.
One NYT article for example, reported on how the U.S. in 2007 tried to
pressure Germany from issuing arrest warrants for 13 CIA officers for
allegedly kidnapping an innocent German man and then torturing him in
Afghanistan before realizing they had the wrong guy. A diplomatic
cable, quoted in the December 9, 2010 article, delivered a veiled
threat that Germany must weigh its relationship with the United States
as it proceeds with the investigation.
That kind of journalism contrasts to dumping 251,287 documents and
hoping that the value of transparency trumps any downsides. For
example, the first two leaksThe Iraq War Logs and The Afghan War
Diariescontained names of confidential sources living in Pakistan,
Afghanistan, and Iraq, who may have
been killed for talking to Americans, Segal said.
If you were working for one of the power brokers in Afghanistan and
it was discovered you talked to someone and you were named in a
cable, you might end up dead. Thats very dangerous, and thats a huge
irresponsibility. They could have scratched out the names, but it
would have taken a lot of work. It was simply laziness on their part.
Who wants to take the time and read all that stuff? It was easier to
dump it out there. But it means people will be killed, or already have
been killed. We dont know.
The first two batches of releases included raw communications from
junior level personnel, some of it reliable, much of it not. This was
un-assessed intelligence, bits and pieces from Afghanistan. They were
not embassy cablesmostly they were raw defense intelligence agency
reports. These always carry a written cautionthat the contents have
not been assessed at the proper level and might be completely wrong.
They are sometimes written by a young officer, for example,who does
not understand all the nuances of whats happening. You read them at
your peril. When I worked at the White House, I never read them. They
were too raw and often wrong.
Yet the release of this intelligence has raised an important question:
Are they vital for protecting national security, such as the 9/11
terrorist attack? Segal said its dubious.
There are just thousands and thousands of reports like these. The
Pentagon will be blown up tomorrow, theres a bomb under the White
House, dirty nukes in St. Louis. This is raw intelligence, and you
need to analyze the sourcecould this person be in a position to know
what he or she is claiming to know? You have to sort it out from all
the other events that never happened. A source wants to be paid again
for information, and some will tell you anything to get paidif they
heard a rumor or they just made it up. They may do all sorts of things
to stay on your list of sources.
Diplomats at the 190 different missions throughout the world shift
through the raw material, analyze it and write up synopses in
diplomatic cables. These hundreds of thousands of cables comprise the
latest WikiLeaks release. And the fact they are synthesized by senior
personnel with a high level of reliability makes their release even
more significant. Bottom line, the countrys most valuable sources
could be potentially driven away, said Segal, who added that his State
Department colleagues say this is exactly whats happening.
With this WikiLeaks release, the sources have been warned. They now
understand that if they talk to you, their name will show up in
public. No longer will we be able to put the names of sources in the
cables; theyll have to be sent separately.
More energy and resources must be spent on building new sources, and
that takes time, Segal said.
Its hard work. Ive done it. Youve got to socialize with people and
try to loosen them up enough to talk about their work. It will hurt us
as a nation, our allies, because we exchange information with our
allies, we have intelligence exchanges. We have a network, and thats
how we find all the terrorist groups. We talk to each other every day
on the Intelnet, a network of intelligence agencies, and were
constantly sharing information.
Julius Assange did not release the most sensitive and secretive
cables, known as nodis or no distribution. If you need an example of
a nodis, go to the back of Bob Woodwards book, Obamas War. For a
particularly compelling nodis, Google nodis + Ambassador Eikenberry +
That sort of information was meant only for the eyes of the highest
government officials the Secretaries of State and Defense and the
President. But someone decided to leak it to the media and doing so
revealed a split within our leadership. That information is useful to
our enemies. I recognize the argument for transparency but there also
has to be a channel for private discussion, Segal said.
If there is a message there for our government, its to remind those
at the highest level that discussions on important issues like
Afghanistan must take place in public. Before we ever go to war,
Congress should be made to vote on a Declaration of War, which would
force debate and transparency, he said.
Our government could improve what its doing by making internal
debates more open. Now its more like, We did the review and heres
the conclusion. Like pulling a rabbit out of the hat rather than a
true public dialogue of here are the options we are being hit with.
The reason theres so much interest in WikiLeaks is that were not
doing enough of that. We didnt hear the debate over the options on
the defense budget, for example. It was just decided. Same thing with
But it shouldnt be Julian Assange deciding for everybody in the
world what gets out there. Its too much power for one person, and I
hope hes going to run out of material. But I dont know.